Jul 09

13 Good-to-Know Tomato Facts

Gardening Jones shares a few things about tomatoes you may not already know.

1. Tomatoes are technically a fruit, not a vegetable as is often thought. I should say they are a fruit botanically, legally they are a vegetable. Zucchini are also botanically classified as fruit. I'm not sure of their legal status though.

2. Different sites vary, but it is thought that there are at least 10,000 and perhaps more than 25,000 varieties of tomatoes. It will take a while to try each one. Here are 15 varieties to get you started.

3. Tomatoes are most commonly red, but they can be green, yellow, orange, striped, pink, brown, purple, white, and black.

4. Tomatoes are often categorized by use: Slicing, which includes all the large varieties, Paste which includes romas and plums, and Snacking or Salad tomatoes including all small fruited and cherry types. Of course, they can all be used any way you want.

5. Tomatoes store longer if kept stem side down. You should never refrigerate an uncut tomato.

6. Generally speaking, the more blossoms in a cluster the smaller the fruit will be. Cherry types like the one shown above can easily have 10-12 flowers, whereas a roma might only produce 6 or so.

7. The tomato closest to the main stem will ripen first. Lucky bugger.

8. Tomatoes are about 95% water. That's the main reason squirrels go after them. Place a pan of water out for the squirrels, and you may save your tomatoes from damage.

9. Tomatoes are the most commonly grown edible in the garden. No surprise there.

10. Tomatoes are either determinate or indeterminate types. Indeterminates produce over a longer period of time and tend to grow taller. For canning purposes many gardeners plant determinate varieties to get as much of the fruit in a short period of time as possible. Determinate plants will stop producing pretty suddenly. It's not your fault, they are just done.

11. Tomatoes are not self-pollinating as is often misunderstood, though they are self-fertile. This simply means they have both male and female parts on the same flower. There is no action the flower can take that will move that pollen though, they do need just a wee bit of help. Bees can do it, wind can, you can gently shake the plant, or use a tuning fork. Note this help from you is called hand-pollination.

12. Tomatoes may drop their flowers, cleverly called Blossom Drop, if conditions are not good for the plant. Often it is caused by extreme temperatures. We rarely get temps hot enough here for it to happen, but we have seen it in the greenhouse. That's where, by the way, we keep the tuning fork.

13. Probably the most common tomato problem is Blossom End Rot. This is caused by the plant's roots not being able to uptake sufficient calcium. This is highly preventable by planting tomatoes very deep or in a long trough, and/or by adding calcium to the soil. The easiest source of calcium would be Tums or the generic equivalent. If you get BER, you can try watering with diluted milk at the base of the plant. Often by the time you see it, the plant is already beginning to produce fruit that does not have BER, but it won't hurt to take precautions.

So there you have it. Did you know all 13?

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Jul 08

Minted Potatoes w/ Dipping Sauce

Gardening Jones shares a different take on vinegar chips using homegrown potatoes and fresh mint.New potatoes are just coming in here in our Zone 5/6-ish gardens.We're having fun finding interesting ways to enjoy them.

This is a take-off on the idea of vinegar flavored potato chips. It is much more fun to eat though because it has an interesting combination of spices.

Mint Vinegar Potato Fries

Cut potatoes into wedges and marinate for about 20-30 minutes in Mint Vinegar. You can use your favorite mint to make the vinegar, we recommend one that is more mild like a Silver Mint.

Drain the potatoes, keeping the used vinegar in a bowl, and pat dry.

In a skillet, or with a fryer, get your oil hot. For a fryer, follow the directions. For a skillet, add enough oil to cook one side of the fries.

Add the fries, and turn to cook both sides. Remove from oil and place back into the vinegar until you are done. Drain.

Curry Dipping Sauce

Add as much curry powder as you like to either sour cream or plain yogurt. Add some chopped fresh mint. Garnish with a sprinkle of curry powder.

These fries, or chips as the English say, are good both warm and at room temperature. They sure will get some attention!

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Jul 04

30 to 60

Gardening Jones shares some positive ways to help handle an unexpected life change.

My Vision Board of positive thoughts and inspirations.

I hit the ground running about a month ago, in an effort to make some positive life changes before my 60th. birthday. <-- This link talks about that.

And I did. Down 7 pounds and a few inches, feeling more physically fit and energetic, and sleeping better. I'm sure the diet and exercise changes were also having a positive impact on my medical numbers.

Then there was a brick wall, or so it seemed. About 10 days ago my job lost me.

I say it that way since I do feel it is more of a loss to them than to me. But I wasn't prepared for how deep that cut would really be.

Having something you poured your heart and soul into taken away from you was harder than I could imagine. It certainly wasn't a change that was a part of my original plan, and I was unprepared for it.

It was with the support of family, friends, and equaintances that I was able to keep everything together and move on. Quotes like "The best way to predict the future is to create it." helped a lot. And the belief so many of y'all expressed, that things were headed in a very positive direction, helped keep me strong.

So I've added a few things to the original list for the next 30 days. After all, I have the time. 😉

1. Meditate daily. Probably the best way to focus and free my mind up to new thoughts and a new direction. If something wonderful is headed my way, I want to be able to recognize it when it gets here.

2. Laugh every day. Whether by reading something funny or watching it, laughter heals the soul as well as the body. If I cry anymore, it should be from laughing so hard.

3. Change my environment. One of the first things I did was to rearrange the furniture in my bedroom. The physical effort felt so good, and the new look was a great start to a new life. I intend to do this to other areas of the house as well.

4. Get some direction. This kind of life change can lead to the feeling of being a boat adrift. To make that feeling go away, I have begun to put more attention into the soap making that I do. It is something I enjoy and it can't go to waste.
So why not, right?

If you have a favorite quote about empowering yourself, please leave it below. Together we can make our arsenals stronger.
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Jul 02

11 Edibles it’s Not Too Late to Plant

Gardening Jones looks at mid-summer planting in Zone 5/6.

 

Here in our Zone 5/6-ish gardens we can expect to see fall frost as early as the end of September, more likely in October. You can check your dates using your zip code here. Then look at the seed packets to find the Days to Maturity, and count backwards.

So assuming there is room, which one way or another there always is, what can still be planted?

  1. Peas and Beans. Look for the bush variety as these are likely determinate types. They will produce their main crop in a short period of time and be done. Perfect for when time is running out. Most varieties will be ready in about 50-60 days.
  2. Summer squash. Again there are a number of varieties that will produce in as little as 50 days. Soak the seeds overnight in compost teas such as Moo Poo Tea for even faster germination.
  3. Carrots. You can look for early types that are ready to harvest in just 50 days, baby carrots that also produce quickly, or just any carrot since they can take frosts. When mulched before the ground freezes, many gardeners can harvest carrots well into the winter months.
  4. Cucumbers. What? Yep, it's not too late. Most cucumbers will start producing fruit in less than 2 months. Sure your harvest will be less than if you planted sooner, but if a spot opens up, go for it.
  5. Radishes. Is it ever too late to plant these little buggers? Okay, yes, but barely. Even Daikons can be ready before the frost.
  6. Fresh greens can be planted now and even later in the summer. Many can handle cooler temps; spinach, kale, and mache in particular.
  7. Container crops such as Butterbush Squash can still be planted and covered if need be. This particular variety starts producing in 75 days, so there is still time.
  8. Broccoli Raab can be planted pretty much anytime all summer. It only takes about 6 weeks to mature, so have at it.
  9. Potatoes. Yep, there is still time. You'll start getting new potatoes in about 7-8 weeks. Let the plants go and harvest before frost hits.
  10. Fall crops, such as cabbage and broccoli can be planted now. A few frosts won't hurt them and can actually sweeten the flavor.
  11. Beets and turnips, two of my favorites, mature in about 40-55 days depending on variety. Tuck them in wherever you can find a spot. Yum!
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Jul 01

How to Make Zoodles

My husband Mandolin Jones used to say that "Two zucchini plants are at least one too many."  And I could see his point.
Sometimes I could see it all over the kitchen. 😉

Once I found this fun way to serve summer squash, he changed his mind.

Gardening Jones shares a fun way to serve summer squash.

We had heard of making curly fries from potatoes and sweet potatoes, then learned you can do the same thing with eggplant, summer squash, and butternut squash. Collectively the squash are known as Zoodles, since these pasta substitutes are most often made with zucchini.

After checking out a few YouTube videos demonstrating slicers, we chose this one by Paderno. It seemed to be the easiest and most reasonably priced for what we needed.

According to the directions included, you can also use it to slice and make curly cues from turnips, radishes, cabbage, apples and carrots. Hmm… pretty neat.

Once we got the hang of it, it did the job quick and is very easy to use.

Gardening Jones shares a fun way to serve summer squash.

Mandolin grabbed some of the first batch of yellow summer squash and added it to some sauteed garlic and roasted onion tops. He threw in baby spinach, fresh basil, a little salt and pepper and a dash of lemon juice.

Topped with some Parmesan cheese, it was lunch in a snap.

The rest of the squash curls went into the dehydrator to be used over the winter months.

No longer is Mandolin making fun of an excess of summer squash, Instead he now anxiously awaits that overabundance; something he never thought he would be doing.

More ways to use Zucchini on Pinterest.

Here's 11 more recipes featuring Zoodles.

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Jun 30

10 Random Gardening Tips

Gardening Jones shares a few tips to help your garden grow.

Mother nature's bar code.

1. Watering your garden in the early morning prevents moisture loss that can occur later in the hotter part of the day. It also helps prevent powdery mildew and other fungal diseases that thrive in high humidity levels. Similarly, mulch helps conserve moisture and prevent those nasty microorganisms from splashing up on the plants.

2. It's a myth that watering during the hotter part of the day causes scald on your plants.

3. Save space by planting garlic, leeks, and green onions in containers. They can easily be tucked in here and there and they help keep insects away. Bonus: If they produce scapes you get a pretty visual accent.

4. If you have an area you can dedicate to onions, try perennial aka Walking Onions. Plant them once, and you can harvest fresh green onions for life. Save that flavor by slowly roasting the chopped tops in an iron skillet. Store in a cool dry place.

5. Don't harvest all your veggies before the first fall frost, some actually like it. Cabbage, carrots, parsnips and kale taste better, sweeter, after a little frost. Brussel sprouts like hard frosts. Really. Check this out.

6. When transplanting tomatoes, plant them deep enough that the stem is covered with soil all the way up to the top set of leaves. "Bury them up to their necks." was what the local farmers told us.This helps them develop a better root system, which will take in more of the available nutrients and make for a healthier plant.

7. Use an old window screen resting on wooden horses to cure onions, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Be sure it is out of the elements and has plenty of air flow. For larger crops like we grow, an old screen door works great.

8.Don't throw out those sweet potato vines, they are highly nutritious. Cook the way you would spinach. Likewise, trim the onion tops, chop, roast, and grind into onion powder. Hey, that stuff in the store is pricey and not nearly as good.

9. When blanching vegetables to freeze or can, save the water. If you are just preparing a small batch, the cooled water is a great way to give your house plants a nutrient lift. For larger amounts save the water to later turn into soup base. Here's how to use your scraps to do just that.

10. It's better to under-water than over-water, so check the soil first. Stick your finger in up to your knuckle. If the soil isn't bone dry and the plant isn't wilting, wait. More plants have died from too much attention than the other way around.
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Jun 18

What Makes Oregano and Mints So Invasive?

Gardening Jones talks about Mint and it's relatives.

In most climates, mints and other members of the mint family, which include oregano and all the balms, are very invasive.

There are 2 reasons why:

1. This family's roots are called rhizomes, and they can and will travel quite a distance underground. Check them out in the pic above. They are so determined in fact, that mulching only makes them go farther.

2. They happily reseed themselves. We have found mints in many areas of the garden, even though ours are planted in containers. Allowed to flower, or bolt, depending on your point of view, the seeds can be carried by the wind and you may find mints and oregano all over the place.

So although they can be a handful, we will continue to grow a variety of mints and balms, albeit in containers, because their flavors are so worth it.

-Hamburgers with a little spicy sausage and fresh mint are out of this world.
-Homemade mint extract is way better than store bought.
-Use oregano as part of your homemade dry rubs, and it is an essential ingredient in Greek cooking.
-Balms are also great for cooking, such as Lemon Balm. Additionally they help attract bees to your garden, Bee Balm in particular.

Related Post: 6 Ways to Preserve Herbs

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Jun 12

When to Start Fall Crops

Gardening Jones shares how she decides when to start seeds for a fall harvest.

I know, it's only the middle of June and already we're talking about the fall plants. But the time to get started is now.

There are a few crops that actually like the cold, and even taste sweeter if allowed to get some frosts.

Recently we learned that Brussel Sprouts in particular can be harvested way into the winter.

So how should you go about planning for a fall harvest of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and sprouts; as well as some carrots, kale, and mache?

First find your average fall frost date here

Add on a few weeks to be sure your plants get some frost. For example, the average fall frost date for Zone 5 is Sept. 30. Add on 3 weeks and you're at Oct. 21st. Now simply subtract the time you need to grow your crop.

A fall storage-type cabbage takes about 12 weeks to mature after transplanting later in the season. Add another 5 weeks from starting the seeds until they are ready to transplant. When you subtract those 17 weeks from Oct. 21st., your seed starting date is during the last week of June. Note non-storage types grow much faster, usually only about 7 weeks after transplanting.

Brussel sprouts can be started at about the same time. Broccoli and Cauliflower are ready to harvest about 7-8 weeks after transplanting outdoors. We start them inside around the middle of July.

You can direct seed these plants as well. You would just need to make sure they stay well watered until the seeds emerge. This could be difficult in the hot summer months. We like to plant kale and mache in with the tomatoes and find transplants are best, again as the tomatoes might not like being kept wet for 3 weeks.

You can direct seed carrots, kale and mache all summer. Kale can take a lot of cold as can carrots. Some gardeners overwinter mache with minimal protection.

Carrots can be harvested through the winter as long as you can get them out of the ground. We have been known to use an ice pick, but really affording them protection is much easier.

And safer. 😉

Related article: 5 Things to Know About Days to Maturity.

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Jun 11

Gardening for Brain Power

Many years ago I read of a study that showed that activities that involve the brain having to predict outcomes help to prevent Alzheimer's Disease.

Other studies have shown that physical exercise alone may help, but this study was more specifc and certainly more emphasis was on the types of activities. These included chess and similar games of strategy, as well as gardening.

Gardening Jones takes a look at exercising your brain through gardening.

Initially, the ground was uneven and full of weeds.

So here I am going to share a garden project with you, and help you predict the outcome yourself.

My husband recently asked me if I could do something with this side of the house. The ground is very uneven, and he is concerned he might fall while weed-whacking.

Two solutions come to mind:
1. Make it less uneven.
2. Get rid of the weeds.

Gardening Jones takes a look at exercising your brain through gardening.

The only thing that helped was the hostas.

So I started by building a path that evens out the walking area. It needs more mulch, but it's a beginning.

From there I divided some of the hostas we had, and added a few new varieties from the local nursery. This area is mostly shade, so the hostas will continue to do well. It's also away from the deer. 😉

A friend recently gave me a box of Lily of the Valley he had dug up, which I love and they also like shade. I know from previous experience these plants do well together, and it won't be long until they fill in the area and choke out any remaining weeds.

Gardening Jones takes a look at exercising your brain through gardening.

Pull some weeds and share plant love.

So here's where your imagination can kick in. Picture this: Alliums such as these and this one growing not only against the wall, but dispersed throughout. Okay, this one too. How about some Astilbe cascading over those uneven areas?

Let's tie it all together with these Purple Toad Lilies and an assortment of faux stone pots with herbs and other shade loving perennials.

Gardening Jones takes a look at exercising your brain through gardening.

Add a path and some imagination.

Can you picture that in your head? What would you add?

Now then, you just helped prevent yourself from getting Alzheimer's by imagining how this will look. Good for you, keep it up!

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Jun 10

Not ‘Just Another Hoe’

dandelion in the garden

dandelion in the garden

‘Weed’ is an interesting word.
It is both a noun and a verb, the meaning of the verb is to get rid of the noun.

You might consider the opposite of ‘weed’ to be ‘harvest’.
Also a noun and a verb, though here the meaning of the verb is to gather in the noun.

As much as I enjoy harvesting, I hate weeding.

So when I was asked to test a tool that had a weeding function, I cringed.
Could I write something good about something I dislike so intensely?

cobrahead tools

the long handled and the original

I looked at their website and saw they had a long handled version of the same tool.
Now we’re talking.

If it did what they say, it would mean no more sore knees and back pain just from removing what I didn’t plant in the first place.

The company, a real Mom and Pop store, were kind enough to send me both tools to try.
So I gave it a relatively easy test- on the dandelion pictured above.

"Please let this work" I thought, because if it didn't, well- I wouldn't lie to you.

One chop-It was a Robin, Boy Wonder moment- Holy Hoe Batman!

dandelion weed

who's dandy now?

Seriously, one shot, no bending, weed out root and all.
Turn the tool to the side and pull the weed toward you.

I was impressed.
With unexpected enthusiasm, I did the whole bed in just a few minutes. No bending at all.

Nice.

bed of weeds

bed of weeds

weeded raised bed

weeds lose, I win

weeded weeds

a bucket full

Alright- what ‘can’t’ it do?

A few days ago I dug a particularly difficult weed from just outside of the raspberry bed.
It took me about 10 minutes, using a shovel.

It had a real good grip, but I got it eventually.

There was another patch inside the bed, which would have to wait to be dug out after the berries were done producing.
Or so I thought.

Three hits with the Cobrahead and it was out, just like that.

nasty weeds

nasty weeds

nasty times two

nasty times two

I haven’t been this excited about a tool since I got my first wheelbarrow.

I'll tell you why:
I have one long bed on the front end of my garden where I have been fighting a very intrusive weed for a few years now.
This year I reluctantly decided to not plant there at all, in an effort to finally get rid of it.

But now I’m thinking differently.
I’m actually excited to go out today and win that weed war, because now I have the tools to do so.

I'm looking forward to weeding, I never thought I'd say that.

cobrahead

it's a family owned small business

But don't just take my word for it:

Shawna Coronado tries out the original version.

This YouTube Video shows all the ways to use this tool.

Where to get your own.

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